UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


ISAF - International Security Assistance Force
ISAF - I Saw Americans Fighting

International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, which had handled day-to-day operations in Afghanistan for five years, formally cased its colors during a ceremony held on 8 December 2014 at the command's headquarters at Kabul International Airport. The ceremony symbolized the end of the ISAF Joint Command mission and the end of the United States and NATO's combat mission in Afghanistan more than 13 years after beginning combat operations in the country and driving the Taliban from power.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was created at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Bonn Conference in December 2001. ISAF was mandated by the United Nations Security Council in resolutions 1386, 1413, 1444, and 1510. Originally, the command of ISAF was rotated among the larger NATO members every six months. ISAF I was led by the United Kingom, ISAF II was led by Turkey, and so forth. The ISAF IX was led by General D.J. Richards of the United Kingdom. In August 2003, NATO created a multinational headquarters in Kabul that allowed smaller nations to take a more prominent role in the reconstruction effort.

In October 2003, the United Nations Security Council passed UNSCR 1510, thereby authorizing ISAF to extend its mission beyond Kabul. The expansion of the NATO mission took place in four phases:

  • Phase 1: Assessment and Preparation
  • Phase 2: Geographic Expansion
  • Phase 3: Stabilization
  • Phase 4/5: Transition/Redeployment

According to the ISAF mandate, the Afghan authorities had the primary responsibility for security. ISAF's role was to support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRA) in providing and maintaining a secure environment in order to facilitate the re-building of Afghanistan and the establishment of democratic structures, and to assist in expanding the influence of the central government across the country.

More specifically, ISAF's main security tasks included:

  • The conduct of stability and security operations
  • Support to the Afghan National Army (ANA)
  • Support to the Afghan government programmes to Disarm Illegally Armed Groups (DIAG)
  • Support to the Afghan National Police (ANP), within means and capabilities

ISAF's mission was an integral part of the International Community's comprehensive approach to Afghanistan and its efforts to bring lasting peace and stability back to the country.

While ISAF's primary mission consisted of securing Afghanistan to permit speedy reconstruction and development, practical support for reconstruction and development efforts also stands as one ISAF's key supporting military tasks.

ISAF's activities in that field included: the identification of needs, such as the rehabilitation of schools and medical facilities; the restoration of water supplies; the provision of appropriate support for other civil-military projects; and the conduct of a coherent overview of the progress of development efforts.

As of 27 October 2006 ISAF reported the following accomplishments:

  • Overall: ISAF was running 1,113 projects.
  • National Security: The Afghan National Army had over 35,000 personnel and the National Police employed 42,000.
  • Road Construction: Afghanistan's National Ring Road Network measured 3,256km in length. 1,743km or 52% of the roads were asphalted. 2,743km or 82% or the roads were open to traffic.
  • Mines: 88,138 anti-personnel and 11,254 anti-tank mines had been destroyed.
  • Airfields: ISAF had provided technical and planning assistance to the Afghan government to complete development of all 7 regional and 3 national airfields.
  • Healthcare: ISAF had completed one district hospital, three basic health centers, and one comprehensive health center. This made healthcare services available for an additional 200,000 people. In total, 83% of the population subsequently had access to healthcare.
  • Education: Approximately 1,000 schools were opened in 2006 and there were now 43,000-45,000 trained teachers in Afghanistan.

As of July 2008 the 26 NATO/ISAF's Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) were at the leading edge of the Alliance's commitment to reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan. Over 40 nations had contributed by that time to ISAF as a whole, including the PRT program.

Also, with the expansion of ISAF into the rest of Afghanistan, which was completed by the end of 2006, came discussion of a potential merger of ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan. The United States was the primary actor pushing for the merger, noting the complications of having two largely seperate forces operating in extremely close proximity and in certain cases in support of one and other. Combining the missions would also help further consolidate the roles performed by head of OEF-A, who doubled as the commander of US forces under ISAF. ISAF partners were however concerned about the divergent missions of ISAF and OEF-A, with one being focused primarily on reconstruction and basic security operations and the other being focused on quelling the anti-government insurgency in Southern Afghanistan. Fears of mission creep among ISAF partners, already concerned at the increasingly offensive roles taken by ISAF members in Regional Command South and Regional Command East, fueled the reservations about merging the two missions. Nations like Germany were especially concerned that merging the two missions might push for a more offensive focus and draw their forces into ground combat operations not then being undertaken. As of August 2008 ISAF and OEF-A remained seperate despite continued debates over their merger.

In 2010, ISAF leaders and President Hamid Karzai agreed to a transition process at the Lisbon Summit. According to the agreed roadmap, Afghan security forces were to take on full security responsibility for their country by the end of 2014. The transition process officially started on 22 March 2011, with the announcement of the first group of provinces, districts and cities to be handed over to Afghan security leadership. On 18 June 2013, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) formally assumed the lead for combat operations across the country. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) continued to support ANSF operations. President Karzai also announced the fifth and final group of Afghan provinces, cities, and districts to undergo transition in the coming months. This would support the goal of complete transition of responsibility for security to the Government of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

US troops will stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year, in a deal signed 30 September 2014 under the country's newly inaugurated president. The security agreement will allow about 10,000 soldiers to stay on when the international combat mission ends Dec. 31. The development came as Ashraf Ghani officially took over for outgoing President Hamid Karzai.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list